Get in early

Festive favourites such as salmon, carp, cooked lobsters and prawns, plus razor clams, and pollack, coley and whiting – perfect for a fish pie – are our pick of Billingsate this week.

Seafood has always played an important part in Christmas festivities. That’s partly because some varieties are seen as luxury items reserved only for special occasions (and what’s more special than Christmas?), while others are bound up with custom, sometimes from around the world. After all, London is one of the most cosmopolitan capital cities on earth and in its way tries to cater for every taste, diet and tradition. That’s certainly true of Billingsgate.

Whole salmon is by far the most popular fish at this time of the year, far outstripping sales of its closest rivals. That’s partly because it’s still seen as luxurious, especially when smoked or cured, and also because it’s so convenient at such a busy time. There are all kinds of hot- and cold-smoked salmon products (pictured above) around this week that would fit the bill nicely.

Other traditional Christmas fish are the popular carp and freshwater bream, which are typically prepared and eaten on Christmas Eve. I am pleased to report that salmon, carp and bream are all currently available in a range of sizes guaranteed to satisfy all culinary requirements, and at a fair price. Our advice is to get in before the rush!

The week before Christmas is when we’ll see the most frenzied activity, as last-minute shoppers finally decide on their menu plans and start stocking up. So plan, buy and prepare early. If you’re buying fresh fish, freeze it slowly and defrost only when required, allowing plenty of time to thaw completely. This way will avoid any disappointment.

Meanwhile, there are a number of fish that languish in the shadows during this festive period, and indeed all too often during the rest of the year, too. These are the great “alternatives” to the traditional favourites of cod and haddock, such as whiting (above), pollack (below) and coley . If you want an ever-popular dish that’s perfect for feeding a crowd – and on a budget to boot – stock up on these and make a traditional fish pie.

These varieties blend very well in a pie mix, and you can add extra flavour and colour by adding a few slices of traditional dyed haddock fillet. All cooked to perfection under a potato topping, it’s the ideal dish to prepare, cook and hold in reserve when you just want a break from slaving over a hot oven.

Other festive treats on the market early today are whole cooked lobsters and sweet cold-water prawns. Or how about some large razor clams from Cornwall? The ones on the market this week are some of the finest specimens we’ve seen in a while. The meats are very white and firm and will grill magnificently. Then just slice and serve with a dash of lemon juice: what better way to get a party started? Enjoy!

Treat of the week: Cornish razor clams
Best buy of the week: pollack, whiting, coley

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